Case Summary: AK Gopalan v State of Madras, 1950

By | June 3, 2021
AK Gopalan v State of Madras, 1950

Last Updated on by Admin LB

The case of AK Gopalan v State of Madras[1] gave chance to the Indian judiciary to interpret the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution extensively. After this Judgement Courts in India started approaching the Fundamental Rights of citizens and non-citizens in a wider and comprehensive manner, and not constructed the Fundamental Rights in a restrictive manner as to accumulate all rights of persons under Fundamental Rights. Such as the Right to Privacy, Right to Health, Right against custodial Death etc.

Citation: AIR 1950 SC 27


Majority Opinion:-Harilal Kania (Chief Justice), Justice M. Patanjali Sastri, Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan, Justice B.K. Mukherjea, Justice Sudhi Ranjan Das.
Dissenting Opinion: – Justice Fazal Ali.


The petitioner AK Gopalan, a communist leader, was detained under the Preventive Detention Act 1950 in Madras Jail. The petitioner challenged the validity of the Act on the ground that it is violating the freedom of movement under Article 19 (1) (d) and personal liberty under Article 21 through writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution.

In the petition, he has given various dates showing how he has been under detention since December 1947. He had been sentenced to imprisonment but the convictions were set aside. While he was under detention under one of the other orders of the Madras State Government, he was served with an order made under Section 3 (1) of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950.


  1. Whether Preventive Detention Act 1950 is in violation of Article 19 and 21 of the Constitution?
  2. Whether ‘procedure established by law’ under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is same as ‘due process of law’ under US Constitution?
  3. Whether is there any relation between Article 19 and 21 of the Constitution or they are independent in nature?


  1. It was argued that the word “personal liberty” includes freedom of movement under Article 19(1) (d), therefore Preventive Detention must satisfy the reasonable restriction under Article 19(5) of the Constitution.
  2. It was that Article 19 also confers personal liberty as a Fundamental Right and it is being violated of the detainee by the impugned order.
  3. It was argued that Article 19 and Article 21 should be read together as implementing each other.
  4. It was argued that Article 19 gave substantive rights to citizens while Article 21 prescribed that no person can be deprived of his life and personal liberty except by procedure established by law, which is procedural law.
  5. It was argued that under Article 21 ‘procedure established by law’ means ‘due process of law’ of US Constitution which includes the principle of natural justice and since the impugned law does not satisfy the requirement of due process of law, therefore it is an invalid law.


Majority Judgement

Rejecting the contentions of AK Gopalan, the majority bench held that the ‘personal liberty’ which is enumerated under Article 21 of the Constitution means nothing more than the liberty of the physical body, that is freedom from arrest and detention without the authority of law.

According to Prof. Dicey, Personal liberty means freedom from physical restraint and coercion which is not authorised by law.

The word ‘liberty’ is a very comprehensive word and if interpreted it is capable of including the rights mentioned under Article 19. The court narrowed down the meaning of ‘personal liberty’ as it is given under English law.

Article 21 is a guarantee against deprivation (total loss) of personal liberty while Article 19 afford protection against unreasonable restriction (which is only partial control). Freedom guaranteed by Article 19 can be enjoyed by a citizen only when he is a freeman and not if his personal liberty is deprived under a valid law.

Court went on to enumerate that ‘procedure established under law’ is not as same as ‘due process of law’ under US Constitution. The word law interpreted by US Supreme Court does not allow the same interpretation of the law under Article 21.

This is clear from the Drafting Committee of the Constitution in the respect of Article 21, that Constituent Assembly formerly used the term ‘due process of law’ and later dropped it in the favour of ‘procedure established by law’. The expression ‘procedure established by law’ must mean procedure prescribed by the law of the State.

The interpretation put on the ‘due process of law’ by US Supreme Court has been characterized as utmost vagueness. If the Constitution-makers wanted to preserve in India the same protection as given in US Constitution, there was nothing to prevent the Constituent Assembly from adopting that phrase.

The Prevention of detention Act followed the valid procedure, as it is enacted by State legislation, therefore the Act does not infringe Article 21 and 22 of the Constitution. Therefore, the said act was held valid and the court dismissed the writ petition.

Minority Judgement

Justice Fazal Ali in his dissenting judgement held that the Act was liable to be challenged as violating Article 19. He gave wide and comprehensive meaning to the word ‘personal liberty’ as consisting of freedom of movement and locomotion. Therefore, any law which deprives the person of his personal liberty must satisfy the requirements of Article 19 and 21.

Justice Fazal Ali relied on the Constitution of Danzig and said that:

“There is however no authoritative opinion available to support the view that this freedom is anything different from what is otherwise called personal liberty. The problem of construction in regard to this particular right in the Constitution of Danzig is the same as in our Constitution. Such being a general position, I am confirmed in my view that the juristic conception that personal liberty and freedom of movement connote the same thing is the correct and true conception, and the words used in Article 19(1)(d) must be construed according to this universally accepted legal conception.”


In the AK Gopalan case, the Court had interpreted Article 21 extremely literally and went on to affirm that the expression procedure established by law meant any procedure which was laid down in the statute by the competent legislature that could deprive a person of his life or personal liberty.

It is however in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[2] in the year 1977 that the dissenting opinion of Justice Fazal Ali was upheld. Apex Court held that the reasonableness of the procedure established by law should be reviewed by the court so that it is reasonable, just and fair and is free from any arbitrariness. Justice Bhagwati held that the expression ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 has the widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man and some of them have raised to the status of distinct fundamental rights and given additional protection under Article 19.

[1] Full Judgment Text, Supreme Court of India, Available Here

[2] AIR 1978 SC 597

  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *